You probably know that in December, a declaration was put forth in the United Nations calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. It won the support of 66 countries, including Canada, which co-sponsored the declaration. Those voting against included the US, Russia, China, the Vatican and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
This story is from mid-December, but it will be ongoing for years to come.
An unprecedented declaration seeking to decriminalize homosexuality won the support of 66 countries in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, but opponents criticized it as an attempt to legitimize pedophilia and other "deplorable acts."
The United States refused to support the nonbinding measure, as did Russia, China, the Roman Catholic Church and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Holy See's observer mission issued a statement saying that the declaration "challenges existing human rights norms."
The declaration, sponsored by France with broad support in Europe and Latin America, condemned human rights violations based on homophobia, saying such measures run counter to the universal declaration of human rights.
"How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?" said Rama Yade, the French state secretary for human rights, noting that homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.
France decided to use the format of a declaration because it did not have the support for an official resolution. Read out by Ambassador Jorge Argüello of Argentina, the declaration was the first on gay rights read in the 192-member General Assembly itself.
Although laws against homosexuality are concentrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, more than one speaker addressing a separate conference on the declaration noted that the laws stemmed as much from the British colonial past as from religion or tradition.
Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, speaking by video telephone, said that just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality "are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all."
The opposing statement read in the General Assembly, supported by nearly 60 nations, rejected the idea that sexual orientation was a matter of genetic coding. The statement, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the effort threatened to undermine the international framework of human rights by trying to normalize pedophilia, among other acts.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference also failed in a last-minute attempt to alter a formal resolution that Sweden sponsored condemning summary executions. It sought to have the words "sexual orientation" deleted as one of the central reasons for such killings.
Ms. Yade and the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said at a news conference that they were "disappointed" that the United States failed to support the declaration. Human rights activists went further. "The Bush administration is trying to come up with Christmas presents for the religious right so it will be remembered," said Scott Long, a director at Human Rights Watch.
The official American position was based on highly technical legal grounds. The text, by using terminology like "without distinction of any kind," was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states' rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.
"We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically, but the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don't have jurisdiction," said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy permanent representative.
Gay-rights advocates brought to the conference from around the world by France said just having the taboo broken on discussing the topic at the United Nations would aid their battles at home. "People in Africa can have hope that someone is speaking for them," said the Rev. Jide Macaulay of Nigeria.
Despite the obstacles and the loathsome homophobic rhetoric, this could be an important step forward. The resolution itself is the result of a long, arduous road began by, as I understand it, by Louis-Georges Tin, a French activist and founder of the International Day Against Homophobia. Here is an interview with Tin from The Advocate in 2006.
In 75 countries being gay is still a crime. French activist Louis-Georges Tin, founder of the International Day Against Homophobia, hopes to change that by having the United Nations adopt a resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. Tin spoke to The Advocate ahead of a press conference in Paris where he announced the news.
By Doug Ireland
On November 17 the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) will launch a global campaign for a United Nations resolution declaring that homosexuality should no longer be considered a crime anywhere in the world.
The proposed U.N. resolution is the brainchild of IDAHO's founder, Louis-Georges Tin, 32, a professor and author of a number of books (including the Dictionary of Homophobia) who is also a rising star of France's emerging black movement for equality.
Tin will simultaneously release a list of hundreds of VIP endorsers of the proposed U.N. resolution, including a gaggle of Nobel Prize winners (among them, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Dario Fo of Italy, Elfriede Jelinek of Austria, and Amartya Sen of India); political leaders, including two former French prime ministers (Laurent Fabius and Michel Rocard); academics (such as Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and world-famous sociologist Richard Sennett); entertainers (such as Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, David Bowie, Edward Norton, Mike Nichols, Lily Tomlin, actor-playwright Wallace Shawn, humorist Bruce Vilanch, and Spanish actress Victoria Abril); and a host of renowned writers, including Doug Wright, Jon Robin Baitz, Salman Rushdie, Gore Vidal, Sir Tom Stoppard, Tony Kushner, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Russell Banks, Bernard-Henri Levy, John Berendt, Lady Antonia Fraser, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Chambon, Peter Carey, and Edmund White.
Getting the U.N. to commit to universal decriminalization of homosexuality is destined to become the central objective of the international LGBT movement for the next decade. Tin spoke to The Advocate.
What chance do you think this resolution has of passing the U.N.?
Many people believe such a resolution is beyond reach. I personally don't. Why? Because there is already U.N. jurisprudence in our favor. In 1994, Mr. Toonen, a citizen of Tasmania, who had been condemned for same-sex relationships, won his case in what was then the U.N. Commission on Human Rights — it said his arrest was a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the right of privacy. So we just ask the U.N. to extend this jurisprudence to other countries — 75 in the world! — where same-sex relationships are still forbidden. There’s recent evidence that this is not as utopian a project as it might seem at first glance: In October this year, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that the imprisonment in Cameroon of 11 men who'd been caught in a raid on a gay bar on charges of homosexuality was "an arbitrary deprivation of liberty" that violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That's encouraging.
How will you and IDAHO work for its passage?
The campaign for the U.N. resolution will have two main components. An external media campaign to raise awareness within public opinion and governments will begin with the November 17 unveiling of a petition — for which VIP signatures are now being gathered on IDAHO's Web site. Also, a host of international and country organizations have already signed on as cosponsors of the campaign for the resolution, like the International Lesbian and Gay Association and France's Ligue des Droits de l'Homme. The second battle has to be waged within the new U.N. Council on Human Rights. We have to lobby the states that are members and ask them to support the resolution or at least not to vote against it. We are talking with the government of South Africa, which is a member of the council to sponsor the resolution. South Africa was the first country in the world to include the principle of nondiscrimination against gays and lesbians in its constitution — and their sponsorship would show that LGBT rights are not just a "Western issue."
What exactly does the resolution say?
The text I wrote asks for a universal decriminalization of homosexuality. It is very clear, easy, and simple, and based solely on the articles of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that were used to justify the decision in the Toonen case. I did not want to write a philosophical text on the issue, because an argument that may be relevant in one country will certainly be irrelevant in another one. We need a common language to support human rights. What could be more relevant and more international than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself?
Why did you choose this moment to launch this campaign?
The Toonen case was ruled on 12 years ago, so I thought it was high time that LGBT organizations decided to take advantage of it at the U.N. To be honest, I fail to see any issue that could be more important than this one for LGBT organizations. On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization decided that homosexuality could no longer be regarded as a disease, which is why I chose that date for the International Day Against Homophobia. The first IDAHO was only celebrated in 2005, so we really couldn't do anything before that — but now our organization has spread to more than 50 countries and been endorsed by the European Parliament, so I think we are ready to go farther. Look, gays and lesbians around the world cannot wait any longer for their love to cease being made a crime. Many are in jail, or at risk of being jailed. Some are being killed. This has to stop now.
The petition used to be here, but maybe it was taken down after the UN vote? I'm not sure.
International Day Against Homophobia is here.